Native beautyberry enhances fall landscapes

Richard Bogren, Owings, Allen D.  |  9/11/2015 8:56:33 PM

American beautyberry produces berries in fall and is great for birds and other wildlife. (Photo by Allen Owings, LSU AgCenter)

Along with the common purple berries, American beautyberry also comes in varieties with pink berries. (Photo by Allen Owings, LSU AgCenter)

Japanese beautyberry has smaller berries and finer-textured foliage than American beautyberry. (Photo by Allen Owings, LSU AgCenter)

News Release Distributed 09/11/15

By Allen Owings

LSU AgCenter horticulturist

HAMMOND, La. – American beautyberry, sometimes confusingly called French mulberry, is a great Louisiana native shrub deserving increased use. The genus is Callicarpa, and both native and non-native species of this plant can be found in Louisiana.

You will find American beautyberry on the edges of woodland areas. It is common in several areas of the state and is one of the plants home gardeners and hunters see this time of year and want to know what it is.

The American beautyberry currently is putting on a great display in Louisiana. The common beautyberry that most of us know produces clusters of dark purple berries, while white and pink berry forms are occasionally available in the nursery trade. You may also find some selections with burgundy berries.

These plants have abundant fruit production in fall, creating a true wildlife benefit. And they fit well into a woodland garden setting.

Although beautyberry is deciduous, it has three nice seasons of interest.

Plants have small, pink flowers in the leaf axils of paired leaves in the springtime. The flowers are usually inconspicuous unless you really pay weekly attention to your plants. In summer, foliage is rich green and provides a nice background hedge for flowering perennials and other shrubs.

But beautyberry provides a real show in fall. Bright berries are shiny and purple and appear in clusters at the leaf nodes all along the arching stems. The purple berries appear to have a metallic quality when sunlight reflects off them. Quite often the berries persist well into winter, but many times they’re consumed by birds and wildlife.

Alba is a white-berried selection of American beautyberry. Berries are shiny, white and stand out in shady garden areas of the landscape. Welch’s Pink is a variety with lustrous, blush-pink berries. Varieties with white or pink berries produce slightly fewer berries than the purple forms.

Duet and Summer Storm are variegated varieties of beautyberry. Duet has smaller foliage with green leaves and variable yellow margins. Plants produce very small white berries. Summer Storm is has larger leaves and has more white in the foliage. Variegation of the foliage in both these selections is reliably stable.

American beautyberry grows at least 6-8 feet tall with an equal spread. Many times plants left unpruned will be larger than this. The plant is very winter hardy statewide. Some terminal stem dieback may occur in the coldest winters, but pruning out the dead wood when new growth commences in spring will solve that problem. It is a good practice to prune plants a bit during late winter to early spring to control size and direct growth.

Beautyberry has a loose and open habit. One plant can be attractive, but a grouping of three to five creates a full cluster. The plants cross-pollinate to ensure the fullest fruit production. Beautyberry tolerates dry soil conditions and part shade, but the healthiest plants and best fruit production happen in full sun. Be sure to maintain consistent soil moisture for best performance.

The AgCenter Hammond Research Station has purple, pink and white berry form varieties of the American beautyberry. The variegated varieties are also planted at Hammond, in addition to introduced species, such as the Japanese and Mexican forms of this popular American native. The AgCenter is considering breeding and evaluating additional selections.

You can see more about work being done in landscape horticulture by visiting the LSU AgCenter Hammond Research Station website. Also, like us on Facebook. You can find an abundance of landscape information for both home gardeners and industry professionals at both sites.

Rick Bogren

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